I am Appalachia

I am currently a Journalism and Cultural Anthropology double major at The University of Louisville. This is a short narrative on my life in poverty and Appalachia. Though my story may be common, the only thing it shows about me and my peers is that we are strong, resilient, and more than any stereotype. All people deserve a voice.

I grew up on that mythical level of poverty. The levels you hear about at public schools or stories they tell you on TV to guilt you into making clothing donations to churches, which kept me warm in the winters. This level of poverty plays a unique two edge sword relationship with those that live in it as well as a hard-to-walk line to come out human, let alone unscathed. I fought with hunger, a lack of a sewage system, lack of running water, and often no electric.

“I grew up on that mythical level of poverty.”

I’m from Southern Appalachia, my mother moved us around a lot so that’s why I put a region, Appalachia, not a single city or county. Our life often was often dictated by the people my mother was dating. We would quickly move in and live with whatever man my mother had fallen for at the time. It wasn’t bad though, many of the men had positive impacts on my life, but few remained important for long.

The moves remained mostly in two states; Tennessee my childhood main home, and Kentucky the home that graced me into adulthood. Other states were Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. To make constantly moving my family of 6 better we survived on a stable 600 dollars I received from my late father. Which left me with little ability to take part in extracurriculars- but I usually was capable of taking part in activities that could be done during school and provided transportation so I wasn’t uninvolved.

As I moved along in my life things would get more complicated, just like they do for most teens. Puberty plays an important and complicated role in every everyone’s life, but it saved my life. I lived a life that should have led me into intense drug abuse, depression, and sex trafficking. Being gay alienated me from my peers forcing me into smaller groups of friends, isolating me from parties and social gatherings that my siblings participated in. These parties would have been both of my sibling’s first exposures to drugs of any kind. Yes, these choices are more complicated than a simple sexual preference but it doesn’t make it any less impactful on the difference between the roads that my siblings who have had problems with the law since a young age and myself as a frequent dean’s list student.

“I lived a life that should have led me into intense drug abuse, depression, and sex trafficking.”

This isolation was a staple of high school experience and would be the keyword to highlight my high school life as a whole.

It was a series of waiting matches. Waiting to move again. Waiting for someone to be my friend. Waiting to have to come out again. Waiting for someone else to come out, the waiting did would come to an end though.

I moved out to live on my own in my Junior year of high school. I was attending this small declining public school, Knox Central High School, which rested in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and was probably one of the more economically sound places I lived. Junior year was a messy time — looking for ways to pay for a college education, figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and trying to keep my head above water as a newly independent student.

My public school teachers played the most important role in raising me. I look back and can name tons of teachers that served in protecting and advancing me in society. There are no better resources than a teacher, they play a key role as a friend, additional family members, role models and confidants. Their wealth of experience in the education system can help prepare and push anyone forward if you are lucky enough to make deep and meaningful connections with them, as I was so lucky to have done.

Not all teachers are made equal though. During my time at Knox Central, I dealt with a typical amount of bullying given that I was a gay teen in the middle of the Bible Belt, but it was my younger peers that really suffered.

“There are no better resources than a teacher”

Senior year I decided I wanted to leave this school in a better state than how I had received it, so I decided to try and start a GSA. I looked into all of the required actions and felt I was met with little to no resistance, but in time I would receive some. At first, the faculty that had supported me expressed fear in being isolated or having their careers damaged and agreed to only support me after the club was set in stone. Then, I was often ignored by the administration when I tried to pursue the organization. I will admit that in the end I fell victim to my own self-esteem and allowed the club to fail. I was still very insecure about my identity and couldn’t handle the heat that was going to be required to achieve my GSA successfully.

I had dreamed of going to a big school out of state, but it was quickly becoming clear that that dream would be falling through the cracks, but I did learn of one scholarship that might’ve made it easier for me to attend school. The University of Louisville offers a grants to help cover any additional costs including housing for students that fall 150% below the poverty line like I did. This scholarship allowed me to attend school without the fear of being encumbered by debt holding me back even further than before.

However, the full ride hasn’t made it easier on deciding on what I want to do with my life. Even before I started school I’ve struggled with satisfying myself with a decision. I started my college career as a political science major with an intent to go to Law school, but now I am currently pursuing a Journalism and Cultural Anthropology double major. Journalism is definitely a passion. The thought of reporting on wars, disasters and other international events excite me, but also I fight a daily battle of whether it was appropriate. Yet, I worry that a more practical professional program, such as nursing, would have been a better option.

I would like to dedicate this as with all my works to those teachers that have played a key role in making me into the man I am today; Victoria Pope, Eddie Campbell, Lea Hammons and so many others.